Can't find something? Search Here.

Childhood Histories of Sexual and Physical Abuse Are Common In Adult Alcoholics

Posted in Alcoholism

Adults in treatment for alcoholism have triple the rates of childhood trauma when compared to the general population, according to a new study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Almost half the female alcoholics in the study had undergone sexual abuse as children.

The study also found that physical and sexual abuse in childhood increased the likelihood of not only alcohol disorders, but other problems such as anxiety disorders and suicide attempts.

Dr. Markus Heilig, clinical director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, studied 196 adults in rehabilitation for alcoholism by conducting interviews for symptoms listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the Childhood Trauma Questionnaire. One in four men and one in three women reported being physically abused as children, and the rates for sexual abuse were 12% for men and 49% for women. Twenty-three percent of the women experienced both kinds of abuse, as well as 5% of the men.

Among the general population, the rates of physical abuse are 8.4% and 6% for sexual abuse.

"We had four key findings," said Dr. Heilig. "One, patients being treated for alcoholism are likely to have experienced one or more types of childhood abuse and neglect. Two, sexual abuse increases the likelihood of developing anxiety disorders in addition to alcohol disorder, while emotional abuse increases the likelihood of developing depression. Three, alcoholics who experienced childhood physical abuse may be more likely to have a history of suicide attempts. Four, alcoholics who experienced more than one type of abuse or neglect are especially at risk for developing a psychiatric disorder or for attempting suicide."

Dr. Willemien Langeland, a trauma researcher at Vrije University in Amsterdam and at the University of Amsterdam, commented on the new findings: "From a research standpoint, it is remarkable to see that even within a population of chronic alcoholics in which co-morbid psychiatric disorders are highly prevalent, those individuals with histories of childhood trauma stand out for their degree of psychopathology. … "These highly co-morbid patients reporting cumulative exposure to traumatic stress in childhood are often seen in routine practice. These findings point to the importance of a more systematic trauma assessment in alcohol-treatment services. And I also urge clinicians to address alcohol use at every clinical encounter with children and adolescents that have been identified as victims of childhood trauma, as early interventions in abused children might improve their psychological as well as medical health."

This study appears in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.